- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Any relationship teen-age or otherwise is bound to include problems and disagreements, says Carlton Munson, a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work in Baltimore and a specialist in childhood trauma. "But where it becomes problematic is how you go about solving those issues. The trouble begins when a woman tries to assert independence or establish some control, and the man uses violence to re-establish control."

Most adults realize that a dating relationship should be equal and balanced, but many adolescents have trouble establishing boundaries, says Vickie Beck, a nurse and psychotherapist who specializes in child and adolescent issues for the University of Maryland medical system.

Ms. Beck runs group-therapy sessions for middle school and high school students. She says her teen-age clients have had "huge discussions about how you expect to be treated and what's acceptable. We do a lot of talking about 'what-ifs,' such as, 'Under what circumstances would you allow your boyfriend to hit you?' The person will say, 'Oh, I pushed him too far, and I deserved it.' "

Mr. Munson emphasizes that at the beginning of a relationship, girls are in the driver's seat.

"When teen males who tend to have anger and aggression get involved with a woman, they then commit that onto the woman," he says. "The woman's response determines whether that continues."

But young girls often need guidelines about what constitutes an abusive relationship, Ms. Beck says. "We ask the girls to ask themselves, 'Do you let your date humiliate you in public? Shout at you? Criticize you? Make decisions for you?' "

Jill Murray, a California psychotherapist whose specialty is abusive relationships, cautions that dating violence often starts with this verbal abuse.

"If parents see any bruises that their daughter can't explain, then there have been a hundred signs they've already missed," she says. "It's a thick line to cross into physical abuse, but in my opinion, that is the least damaging of all kinds. So if a boy crosses this really thick line, there has been a long history of physical and emotional abuse and probably sexual as well."

Ms. Beck advises parents to tell their daughters that dating violence can occur.

"But you should also tell them that no one should put a hand on them or force them in any way to do something they don't want to do," she says. "They should be in charge of their decisions; if someone is forcing them, they should get out of situation."

Sons should be reminded to "respect the females," Ms. Beck concludes. "No means no."

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